We had the pleasure of speaking to Canadian Oscar-nominated and Grammy-nominated pianist, songwriter and producer Stephan Moccio about his new album Lionheart. Moccio has achieved nearly 400 million streams on his solo work, and co-written hit songs for Celine Dion, The Weeknd, and ‘Wrecking Ball’ for Miley Cyrus. Having been classically trained at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, Moccio returns to his classical roots on the piano in Lionheart. Stephan’s classical influence can be seen in this performance of ‘Wrecking Ball’.
[Editor] You’ve written seven hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, earned three Grammy nominations and an Oscar nod for co-writing The Weeknd’s seven-times-platinum ‘Earned It’. Coming from a classically trained background, do you feel that your writing of pop songs has influenced your solo piano style?
100%. As a matter of fact, for my composition process for Lionheart, I relied on my aptitude as a pop songwriter and producer. Firstly, I am trained as a classical musical musician, however, for Lionheart I intentionally arranged my compositions as if they were pop songs, treating them in proper form (for the most part) with verses, pre choruses, choruses and a bridge. This helped me arrange the pieces effectively and succinctly. It is not to say that I didn’t have improvised moments, I still believe that contemporary piano must always be authentic, and not feel forced, however, I clearly pulled out my pop artistry.
Can you tell us about any inspiration or meaning behind Lionheart?
The title track/composition has a nobility to it. I felt it needed a strong title. Therefore I began searching for famous knights, and eventually came across Joan of Arc. In my research, the adjective ‘lionhearted’ popped up, which means bravery and determination. I felt it summed up my current psyche, and mantra on life. I no longer need approval from people, or care for vapid opinions about things.
You’ve co-written so many hit songs, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics theme, and music for TV/film, do you have any particular personal highlights from your songwriting career?
Hands down composing the theme for any Olympics, particularly your homeland, is one of the greatest honors bestowed upon a composer. My Olympics theme and song has become a national treasure which will outlive me.
What made you take a step back from the pop music world and return to the piano and the studio on Sounds of Solace in 2020, and again on Lionheart?
I love this question. Simple. Life (for me) was way too complicated, and the return from what I was putting into it when I was producing and creating pop music, wasn’t worth it anymore. I craved and continue to crave simplicity… I never pursued music to become a famous pop producer or songwriter, I pursued music to impact lives emotionally. And frankly, in this moment of my life, I am able to do so as a solo pianist.
You’ve referred to the making of Lionheart as a personal cathartic process of healing. Is it a more personal process to write these songs compared to songwriting for others?
It is an absolute pleasure to write for myself, as I am able to hold more accountability. One of the most painful lessons in life is disappointing oneself. It is therapeutic, and healing. Writing songs for others can be thankless, and oftentimes, your best work remains shelved, because it is out of your control. I have had incredible success as a writer for others (which I will continue) which I am grateful for, however, this lane as a pianist feels very right for me.
How do you divide your focus between songwriting for other artists and composing your solo piano music? Your solo piano work has been hugely successful, earning nearly 400 million streams. Will you continue to do both, or focus more on the piano now?
I will continue to do both. I can’t shut off the deep well of creativity, inspirations and ideas which just come at me at any time of the day. I have developed a sophisticated system to organize my musical brain over the last 20 years or so, to catch and organize how, and to whom, I want to give specific melodies.
Roon is all about enjoying your music listening experience at home. Can you tell us whether you have a specific home set up for music playback, how do you listen to music as a fan?
I am blessed to have a set of vintage JBL speakers which I listen to my music on. I am old enough to remember what quality speakers sound and feel like. It is extraordinary how accessible music is for us today, however, the ability to listen to well recorded music on ‘proper’ speakers gives us the ability to appreciate the artistry, the love, the time and details which passionate and dedicated artists inject and emotionally invest into their work.
Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for your support of solo piano music, it is not lost on me.